One of the great Roman divinities, whose name seems to be of the same root as mens, whence monere and promenervare.1 She is accordingly the thinking, calculating, and inventive power personified. Varro2 therefore considered her as the impersonation of all ideas, or as the plan of the universe, while Jupiter, according to him, is the creator, and Juno the representative of matter.
Minerva was the third in the number of the Capitoline divinities, and sometimes is said to have wielded the thunderbolts of Jupiter, her father. Tarquin, the son of Demaratus, was believed to have united the three divinities in one common temple, and hence, when repasts were prepared for the gods, these three always went together.3 As Minerva was a virgin divinity, and her father the supreme god, the Romans easily identified her with the Greek Athena, and accordingly all the attributes of Athena were gradually transferred to the Roman Minerva. But we shall here confine ourselves to those which were peculiar to the Roman goddess, as far as they can be ascertained.
As she was a maiden goddess her sacrifices consisted of calves which had not borne the yoke or felt the sting.4 She is said to have invented numbers, and it is added that the law respecting the driving in of the annual nail was for this reason attached to the temple of Minerva;5 but it is generally well attested that she was worshiped as the patroness of all the arts and trades, for at her festival she was particularly invoked by all those who desired to distinguish themselves in any art or craft, such as painting, poetry, the art of teaching, medicine, dyeing, spinning, weaving, and the like.6
This character of the goddess may be perceived also from the proverbs "to do a thing pingui Minerva," i.e. to do a thing in an awkward or clumsy manner; and sus Minervam, of a stupid person who presumed to set right an intelligent one. Minerva, however, was the patroness, not only of females, on whom she conferred skill in sewing, spinning, weaving, etc., but she also guided men in the dangers of war, where victory is gained by cunning, prudence, courage, and perseverance. Hence she was represented with a helmet, shield, and a coat of mail; and the booty made in war was frequently dedicated to her.7 Minerva was further believed to be the inventor of musical instruments, especially wind instruments, the use of which was very important in religious worship, and which were accordingly subjected to a sort of purification every year on the last day of the festival of Minerva. This festival lasted five days, from the 19th to the 23d of March, and was called Quinquatrus, because it began on the fifth day after the ides of the month.8 This number of days does not seem to have been accidental, for Servius9 informs us that the number 5 was sacred to Minerva.10
The most ancient temple of Minerva at Rome was probably that on the Capitol; another existed on the Aventine;11 and she had a chapel at the foot of the Caelian hill, where she bore the surname of Capta.12 She also had the surname of Nautia, which was believed to have originated in the following manner. Diomedes had carried the Palladium from Troy; and as he found that it availed him nothing in his misfortunes, and as the oracle commanded him to restore it to the Trojans, he wanted to deliver it up to Aeneas on his wanderings through Calabria. When he came to the Trojans, he found Aeneas engaged in offering up a sacrifice, and Nautes received the Palladium instead of Aeneas. The goddess (Minerva) bestowed many favors upon him, instructed him in various arts, and chose him for her servant. The family of the Nautii afterwards retained the exclusive knowledge of the manner in which Minerva Nautia was to be worshiped. Her mysterious image was preserved in the most secret part of the temple of Vesta, and regarded as one of the safeguards of the state.13
In Roman art Minerva is completely identical to Athena: she wears a helmet, carries the shield with the Gorgo's head, and occasionally holds a spear. The owl and the snake are her attributes.
- Festus, p. 205 (ed. Müller).
- ap. Augustine. City of God vii, 28.
- Augustine. City of God iv, 10; Valerius Maximus, ii, 1.2.
- Fulgentius, p. 561 (ed. Merc.); Arnobius, iv, 16, vii, 22.
- Livy. The History of Rome vii, 3.
- Ovid. Fasti iii, 809 ff.; Augustine, l.c., vii, 16.
- Livy. The History of Rome xlv, 33; Virgil. Aeneid ii, 615.
- Festus, pp. 149, 257 (ed. Miller); Varro. On the Latin Language vi, 14; Ovid. Fasti iii, 849.
- on Virgil's Georgics i, 277.
- See Dictionary of Antiquities, s.v. Quinquatrus.
- P. Victor. De Regionibus Urbis Romae viii,; Ovid. Fasti vi, 728.
- Ovid. Fasti iii, 337.
- Dionysius, i, 69; Virgil. Aeneid v, 704; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid ii, 166, iii, 407; Lucan, i, 598.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.